Monday, October 20, 2008

On Marlowe in exile: a question for Samuel Blumenfeld, author of The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection

Q: Sam, where did Marlowe go after the events at Deptford and his alleged "murder"?

Sam: John Baker has speculated that Marlowe may have gone to Scotland on a mission for Lord Burghley and son. But I believe that he went to Italy, which he had visited as a page with Philip Sidney. So he was familiar with the country. Also, so many of the plays take place in Italy that one can assume that they were written there while in exile: The Taming of the Shrew, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, Othello.

A new book, Shakespeare in Venice, by Shaul Bassi, a lecturer at Venice University, and Alberto Toso Fei, asserts that Shakespeare had to have been in Italy in order to write his Italian plays. But, as we know, Shakespeare of Stratford never traveled abroad. So the plays had to be written by someone who did travel abroad: Christopher Marlowe.

The London Times Online reviewed the book. It stated:

"Mr Bassi and Mr Toso Fei accept that the frequent references in The Merchant of Venice to the Rialto Bridge--the nerve center of Venetian commerce and gossip--did not prove that Shakespeare had seen it, since its fame as a 'marvel of engineering' had spread to London.

"On the other hand, it was striking that he had given the name 'Gobbo' to Shylock’s servant, a reference to the carved figure of a hunchback (Il Gobbo di Rialto) on the bridge, a feature well known in Venice but not beyond it. Shakespeare had also used local words such as gondola, as in Act 2, scene 8 of The Merchant, when Salarino remarks: 'But there the duke was given to understand that in a gondola were seen together Lorenzo and his amorous Jessica.'

"In Othello Roderigo tells Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, that she has been 'Transported with no worse nor better guard but with a knave of common hire, a gondolier' (Act 1, scene 1). Shakespeare knew about the Venetian custom of offering pigeons ('a dish of doves') as a gift, and showed rare insight into cosmopolitan Venice’s ethnic and social relations, and its tolerance of foreigners and minorities."

I am sure that one can find in the Italian plays many more references to places and things indicating a personal knowledge obtained by actually being there. But one must not discount the fact that Marlowe apparently did extensive research when writing about foreign places as shown by his intimate knowledge of the island of Malta, which is revealed in The Jew of Malta.

Also, while in Italy Marlowe obviously had a way of getting his manuscripts to Lord Burghley and son (ed. note: see 6/23/08 Cecil post) in England by diplomatic pouch. As a member of the secret service such facilities would have been available to him. We know that Philip Sidney sent letters to England from Italy. Burghley then would have given the manuscripts to Thomas Walsingham who would have used a scribe to rewrite them so that Ed Blount (ed. note: see 6/7/08 Blount post) could bring them to Shakespeare at the Globe in pristine condition without a blot.

In any case, Marlowe’s exile in Italy should be more thoroughly researched in order to prove beyond any doubt that he lived beyond the events in Deptford and continued to write the greatest dramas in the English language.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, October 2008

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Anonymous said...

What about Marlowe in Spain after Deptford? That's also an interesting theory.

Alisa Beaton said...

It’s quite obvious that the author of the canon had to have spent time in Italy, but proof of Marlowe’s presence there has not been found. Should a document eventually come to light that proves beyond doubt that Christopher Marlowe was in Italy after 1593, then conjecture can advance to certainty.

Bruce Robbins said...

Before we can speculate that Kit lived in Scotland, Italy, Bohemia, Ireland, etc., I think it is first important that we establish that he was not, in fact, stabbed in the right eye at a tavern...maybe we should exhume his body from his grave...look at the skull, the right eye socket...Alas, poor Marlowe!